Dear Noel and Cole,
Put down that celestial martini and stop fondling those cherubs. I have the most sensational news for you. You know how you’re always bitching that no-one can write musicals nowadays like you did? I know there was a time when you had high hopes for that brainy young Sondheim, but then he got all serious about Musicals as Art, so that one went out of the window. And then there was Sandy Wilson, of course, before he took to Resentment.
Well, my dears, it seems that you have spawned some – or at least, an – offspring at last, after all these years! Bill Solly has whipped up a confection which could have come straight from the kitchen of either of you. ‘Boy Meets Boy’ takes that plot of finding, losing, and then re-finding a soulmate which you worked with so often, and throws in for good measure the American Abroad (shades of ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Silk Stockings’) and a comically naughty naughty interlude in Gay Paree.
Gay being the operative word. As you know, darlings, this has come to mean something rather different from the ‘blithe’ you knew it as in your heydays. Here, in a parallel universe, we are in a 1936 where the society (same-sex) marriage of millionaire Clarence Cutler to scion of the aristocracy Guy Rose can carry equal weight on the tabloid front pages with the abdication of Edward VIII for the love of Mrs Simpson. I know you were never ones to rock the boat, queerly speaking, but it is rather refreshing to see this relationship, and the subsequent complications you’d expect, treated on terms of absolute parity. While you would have no problem at all with a world in which the cure for a two-day hangover is to open another bottle of champagne. And Mr Solly does have the most subtly brilliant way with words. His lyrics are wry, witty, transparent and never outstay their welcome (unlike some people I could mention – if the cap fits, darlings!). They are set too, to jaunty, catchy and occasionally melancholy tunes with tight harmonies that linger like the smell of caviar under the fingernails. Not only has Mr Solly learned from his two fairy godmothers, he has the original talent to sustain his homage, and develop it one stage further.
Of course, the production is nothing like what you two would have expected. None of those rows and rows of chorines and enormous art deco sets and gauzes flown in every five minutes. Frankly, I’ve seen more space in a Portaloo than on the stage of the Jermyn Street Theatre. How they not only get a cast of thirteen onto it but actually manage to make them dance rather well, is a mystery known only to Gene David Kirk as director and Lee Proud as choreographer. But squeeze it in they do, and dress it rather prettily with a simple period backdrop and, for the most part, attractive 1930s costumes.
Of course, whole thing stands or falls by the three central performances, and all three Boys here have exactly the right mix of naivety, bewilderment and fey charm to carry the evening. Ben Kavanagh as Clarence, whose good intentions are always undermined by the bitchiness which just slips out, has a touch of the Edward Everett Hortons about him which is appropriate for the Comedy Juve, but most importantly he looks the part. You know how some faces belong in certain historical periods? Kavenagh is absolute Thirties, a slight doughiness clouded in turns by incomprehension or guilt. Stephen Ashfield as ace reporter Casey O’Brien doesn’t quite have the look, but he has absolutely the right sound, as well as the best numbers. The centre of the love triangle, Craig Fletcher, not only looks and sounds right, he deftly handles what are almost dual roles, as Guy Rose the endearing shambles and Guy Rose the aristocratic Adonis of Casey’s fantasy. All that, plus the most endearing buttocks to be seen on the London Stage today. If I were at all catty (which of course you know, I am not) I would say some people are almost too talented for their own good. They are effectively supported by an eight-strong ensemble, from whom Jay Webb stands out for his concentration, and an effective little cameo as a tap-dancing bellboy.
So if you have a mo to hop off your clouds, do pop in to Piccadilly. You’ll find a feather-light soufflé which is just the tonic for this family-obsessed season with its dreary oxen and asses and mangers. It’s just too, too utterly.